Clerics at Interfaith meeting

From left: Rev. Jonathan Chute of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Rabbi Mark Diamond of Loyola Marymount University, President Jihad Turk of Bayan Claremont and Father Alexei Smith of the Diocese of Los Angeles speaks at the Dawn Unity Group Interfaith Discovery Series XVVII.

ROLLING HILLS ESTATES >> A panel of clerics from around the region — while acknowledging that many people of faith face intensifying scrutiny, bias and even violence — attained consensus on at least one point at Tuesday’s first Dawn Unity Group panel of the season. Their common denominator: Hope.

One more point of agreement: When it comes to encouraging unity among parishes of various faiths around the region, nation and world, “We have work to do,” said panelist Rev. Jonathan Chute of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.

The first of four discussions on topics of faith, chaired by moderator Bob Rothman, focused on interfaith relations in Los Angeles. The panel discussions entered their 17th season Tuesday night.

The lively session was part history lesson, part religious primer, part faithful pep rally — and all enlightening.

All four panelists touched on the polarized times in which we live, packed with debates over religious extremism, travel bans, rekindled racism and other concerns. But all celebrated past and current interfaith efforts in the region, and agreed that it’s equally important for people of spirituality to understand both the differences between peoples’ beliefs as well as their common goals and values.

“The goal is not to discover that we all believe the same things,” said Chute. “It’s a gift from God that we learn from one another. It’s a gift of understanding, and it means different things in different religions.”

“We have to come to some parity, some recognition that not everyone has the same issues. We need to be more aware of what we can do to address those issues,” said Father Alexei Smith of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “We need to widen the tent — and the seating in that tent.”

Despite recent headlines, all acknowledged signs of hope in our oft-fractured society. “Amid an alarming rise in anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond of Loyola Marymount University, “we’ve seen a rise in remarkable alliances.”

Despite intensified scrutiny of Muslims here, President Jihad Turk of Bayan Claremont said: “The United States is still the best place on the planet to be a Muslim.”

Turk said terrorism committed by radicalized Muslims is a reality, but that it skews the perception of his faith in the U.S.

“Ugliness gets top billing because it is covered in the news media,” he said. “You’d think there is a supermajority of Muslims who participate in extreme, violent version of Islam, based on what you read in Western media. It’s actually a very small percentage.”

Turk encouraged greater understanding of Muslims in mainstream America.

“Faith is like light — additive, not competitive. The light of one faith doesn’t darken the light of another. We need to grow that light of faith. The more light, the more luminosity.”

Diamond encouraged more dialogue among people of faith, even when it’s not a particularly comfortable process.

“Some of us were taught there are two topics nice people don’t talk about — politics and religion,” joked Diamond. “Now I spend my life talking about politics and religion.”

Diamond said open conversations focusing on faith, if launched with open minds and hearts, can be beneficial. But it shouldn’t be limited to clerics, he said.

“Don’t leave this work to just the people sitting on this panel,” he urged the audience. “Don’t leave it just to clerics. Interfaith work shouldn’t be left to a small subset of people. We all have a role to play.”

An audience member embraced that sentiment. “Could someone be a member of all of your congregations?” asked Viktor Rzeteljski of Rancho Palos Verdes.

The clerics were unanimous in approval. “I’ll give you a permission slip,” laughed Turk, who warned, though, that attending his group’s services meant getting time off from work on Friday afternoons.

“It’s OK,” said Rzeteljski. “I’m retired.”

MORE FAITH TALK

Remaining discussions in the Dawn Unity Group Discovery Series XVII:

• “Joseph,” Tuesday, Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m., Congregation Ner Tamid, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes

• “The Responsibilities of A Religious Leader,” Tuesday, March 6, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 5845 Crestridge Road, Racho Palos Verdes

• “Abraham and the Sacrifice of Isaac,” Tuesday, May 8, St. John Fisher Catholic Church, 5448 Crest Road, Rancho Palos Verdes

• Interfaith Bible Lecture: “Moses and Jesus in Dialogue,” Sunday, Feb.11, 7:30 p.m., Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 26438 Crenshaw Blvd., Rolling Hills Estates.

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